The Kasich conundrum

Several years ago when John Kasich made his first venture into presidential politics, he possessed several attributes that made him a promising candidate. He was authentic and relatable; and equally important, good on television. He was accomplished, having been a key player in creating the budget surpluses of 1998-2001 and he was articulate. He was the the antithesis of typical Republican candidates with the notable exception of Ronald Reagan.

His appeal turned out to be short lived. In his first Sunday television appearance, he came off like someone campaign consultants had just cobbled together off stage. In the intervening years, he had an unimpressive stint with Fox News where he often seemed intentionally and unnecessarily combative, perhaps intending to re-establish his conservative bonafides; often just appearing irascible. He has since made some political missteps in Ohio, most notably the Medicaid expansion. His explanation was unpersuasive and at times he seems to go out of his way to irritate major players in the conservative movement.

Nevertheless John Kasich possesses the skills and the resume to be the next president of the United States. Other candidates would be well-advised to look back at the Kasich of the late nineties and learn from his  interesting career arc.

Republican candidates cannot be inauthentic and win. (Hillary Clinton can compete and win because in her case, her inauthenticity has already been factored in). Carson,  Rubio, Walker, Cruz, Fiorina and Huckabee have it. Bush, Pataki, Santorum and Trump do not relate as well. Christie and Paul are perceived as authentic, although it sometimes comes off more like a personality disorder.

Kasich differs from many of the current contenders because he has a record of legislative and executive accomplishments. He is not running on ideas alone. Kasich is associated with the last major Republican accomplishment in Congress, deficit reduction. His employment numbers in Ohio are good and the state budget performance, up to this point, is impressive.

This is clearly an advantage to the governors; there hasn’t been a major legislative achoevement in years. (The Patriot Act and opposition to Obamacare don’t have much cache’ in present electoral politics.)  Rubio and Cruz are handicapped by a relatively thin legislative resume and to a lesser degree, by their youth. They will succeed largely on their ability to persuade. It can be done: Obama succeeded with little other than his ability to talk. Accomplishments in the private sector usually play better in combination with political successes. However impressive the achievements of Carson, Fiorina and Trump outside politics, their path to the nomination is a hard sell.

The younger John Kasich was articulate. I had a good feeling when he appeared on a news shows. I don’t get that feeling when Louie Gomer is making our case to the television audience.  The current crop of Republicans is a great leap forward from 2012. Walker, Bolton, Jindal and Rubio have performed pretty well unrehearsed. So have Cruz and Fiorina. There is lower tolerance for inarticulate Republicans, in part due to the lack of media interest in the verbal stumbles of Democrats. I like Rick Perry a lot, but his presidential aspirations along with those of Ben Carson, Mike Pence, Herman Cain and Sara Palin have been forever terminally wounded.

Some Republicans will fall victim to self-inflicted wounds and some to accidents of circumstance. The legacy of Bush v. Gore will haunt Jeb Bush in a general election. Scott Walker and Chris Christie will be harmed by the fact that they probably cannot deliver their home states in the general election.

The John Kasich of 1999 was a good template for a successful presidential candidacy. He fumbled the opportunity. Today’ s prospective Republican candidates (Kasich included) should look back at what first made Ronald Reagan and John Kasich viable candidates. One played his hand well and one played it poorly. Kasich may have a viable second act in presidential politics. Ohio is part of a good national story for Republicans. The prospect of carrying Ohio, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin has been in recent years, remote. Kasich is better positioned to carry his home state than Walker is.

Authentic, articulate and accomplished Republican candidates can be elected president, but above all, voters must like you. Even buckets of cash could not elect President Kerry..Gingrich..Dukakis etc. Mrs. Clinton doesn’t inspire much warmth. A republican should defeat her. The lessons of the past should remind us that Rudy Guiliani, Fred Thompson and John Kasich were once positioned to make credible runs at the highest office in the land.  Republicans had bad candidates in 2012, good candidates in 2016; but even good candidates can crash and burn. And republicans have had their fair share of shooting stars in the past. It will be interesting to see what the field, Kasich included, have learned.